Following on from a very productive week of being Mr WriterMcWriteyFace, where the words flowed like a burst water main (don’t believe me eh? Have a peek HERE), last week was more of a dripping tap in comparison.
But there have been words. Some of them thrown together to make sentences. Some of which make sense. Others will be edited over and over until they no longer exist, then rewritten before starting the process all over again. It’s all writing though, it all counts.
Seriously though, after getting so much momentum the previous week, this has been a case of ‘After The Lord Mayors Show‘.
A bit like with my fitness goals, it is at these times when I need to pull up my mojo socks and focus. Just keep turning up Kevin, keep on turning up.
James Baldwin knew.
There isn’t a ‘cheat’.
Talent is insignificant.I know a lot of talented ruins.Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.
There’s no Monday to Sunday updates this week – just a list of positives:
I wrote about 1000 words of DTDLLTO, my novel in draft.
There’s a blog post coming, my reminder to myself to be positive.
My journal has been very busy – ideas, poem drafts, diary entries.
I’ve listened to some brilliant writerly podcasts and other audio.
Dreams and half awake thoughts have been committed to paper for inspiration.
Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go.
The host of my favourite writerly podcast, OtherPPL, has a book coming out. On the pod this week was a free sample of the audio book, read by the author himself, Brad Listi. Check it out HERE. I do harp on about OtherPPL, but that is because it really is a fine creation. Brad’s podcasts never fail to stoke my creative fires and I reckon his book will be a writerly tonic too.
Also in my ears this week has been Nikesh Shukla’s new writing craft offering, Your Story Matters, which has a fresh and pacy feel to it. Another book which is narrated by the author himself, it is a thoroughly engaging listen.
Shukla reminds us that the word count is only one measure of writing success:
Some days you get those words down quickly, other days you pad it out cos you’re tired or stressed or uninspired or it’s a hard sequence. Don’t write 1000 bad words down just to hit a word count. Think about it in terms of time rather than word count.
I’m also reminding myself that it isn’t just writing that counts as writing: thinking counts as writing, walking and imagining my characters in different surrounding counts as writing. Journaling counts as writing, listening to audiobooks counts as writing. Reading of course, without reading there would be no writing. Reading definitely counts as writing. Browsing, or better still, engaging with Writers HQ, yup that counts as writing. Blogging, diarising, taking about my writing, even tweeting my writerly chums, it all counts as writing. There’s even a tongue in cheek Counts As Writing Twitter account.
So I’m not beating myself over last week’s wordcount, in fact the process of tapping these few words has reinvigorated my get-up-and-sit-down-and-fucking-write-y-ness.
Monday: I published last weeks writing update. I also got stuck into my Writers HQ First Draft course and wrote around 500 words of what I think will be the 2nd chapter, although it may yet become the first. These first two settings are several years apart and one could be a reflection of the other.
Tuesday: I plucked up the courage to ask for help from a couple of people who had volunteered through Twitter to be 1st readers. And having publicly thanked them, I got a veritable barrage of Running Commentary listeners offering to have a read of my piece. *gulp*. I struggle to see myself as a ‘proper’ writer and this felt like a huge step for me.
Tuesday also saw me add 400+ words to DTDLLTO (my first novel, working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners, hence DTDLLTO) which is a great start. I’m ‘writing with the door closed’ as per Stephen King’s advice in the brilliant On Writing – he says this first attempt is meant to be rubbish! So, I am writing the first draft for me, getting the story and the characters out of my head and onto paper. I’m trying really hard not to edit as I go, the point is to let it just blurt out. The refining comes later. This is the first time I’ve gathered so much momentum with the book and I intend to embrace it.
AND I started work on a new blog post about becoming a vegan. Considering we were on grandparenting duty, that’s a pretty productive day.
Wednesday: Time limited, I managed 150 odd words on what is currently chapter 2 of DTDLLTO whilst looking after our youngest grandson, Charlie of course.
Thurs/Fri: I’ve started having replies from the 5 people who are first reading the draft of that short story. It is interesting to see how people react to something I’ve written. Let me tell you it is a leap of faith to get other people involved, but one I know will only improve my writing. I shall leave the story festering in a drawer for a week before starting any edits. One possibility is that it is actually part of a much grander piece, and not a short story at all. I’m hoping that once I start editing, the story will reveal itself to me further.
Also on Friday, I started scribbling some notes for a piece I plan to contribute to The Creative Nonfiction Podcast. It is a quirky podcast, the host, Brendan O’Meara talks in riffs, with nods to his favourite metal bands. I was soon on his wavelength though and this has become one of my go-to pods. He interviews authors, journalists and feature writers about the art of creating non-fiction which has the same kerb appeal as fiction. I enjoy writing nonfiction, particularly these blog posts and often think I should spend a bit more time developing the themes. Brendan has a twice yearly audio magazine alongside the podcast and picks the content from listeners’ submissions. For anybody fancying a go, the deadline is 31st October, the theme is ‘codes’ and it needs to be 2000 words (about a 15 minute listen when spoken out loud).
Saturday: I’m now pushing towards 1000 words of chapter two, and another 500ish of what I think will be the first chapter. Got into a bit of a groove this evening, it sometimes feels a bit like running does, when it’s good it is very very good. There’s a rhythm and flow where time just slides by unnoticed. Saturday’s writing felt just like that.
Sunday: Today was about finishing my blog post about becoming a vegan (which I’m very proud of – both the blog and the fact of it!) and putting that aside for one final edit. We all lead busy lives, and unless we happen to be one of the few who are talented enough (and fortunate enough) to be paid to write, we fit it around everything else in our lives.
It doesn’t matter what I am attempting in life: To progress, to proceed, to move on,to enjoyfor goodness sake, there has to be a positive force behind me. That could be as clichéd as the wind literally at my back when I’m running. It could be the metaphorical wind at my back when I’m writing.
I need good, healthy energy. And a clear, even empty mind.
Distractions need to stop being distractions.
The dust and rubble of life’s challenges, the shroud of despair at news I can’t influence and the frustrations of everything I haven’t done, they all keep that wind from my back.
The writer in me gets buried beneath the clutter all too often. I know this, and I know it is mostly of my own making.
I cannot change what I haven’t yet done. Frustrations at my missed opportunities need to be acknowledged, but then forgotten.
Learn. Move on. Simple.
The first draft of this blog post was written long hand, in my notebook, whilst munching on a avocado, red pepper and lettuce bagel, wedged in my work van, taking my lunch break. Just typing this paragraph gives me momentum, positivity, that clichéd wind in my sails!
The habits of 2020 and 2021 are returning. In both my reading and my writing. Take a bow Stephen King, because your gorgeous memoir and craft volume, On Writing, has yet again invigorated me. I own a well thumbed copy which has been devoured over and over. Not only that, On Writing has been my aural companion in the van for the last few shifts. Narrated by the great man himself too.
I’m hardly a fan boy, nor a religious devotee of King’s novels, but I know bloomin’ great writing when I see it. On Writing has fanned the winds of change at my back and I am letting it carry me.
A quick word for A.L. Kennedy’s writing craft volume of the same name too. A wonderful book which I’ve also devoured a few times.
Mobile telephone habits had started creeping back in, I was sinking into a “what’s the feckin’ point?” mood too regularly and spending far too long enacting the scroll of doom. I’ve got an app now which monitors my phone use and pings embarrassing messages on to the screen. These shame me into putting the thing down. It’s working too, I’m still keeping up to date with my little Twitter world, but avoiding getting sucked down an angry hole full of internet gloom.
I think about writing a lot. Nibbly, scratchy and proddy ideas whisper, or even shout sometimes, at my subconscious. These all keep me moving forward if I embrace them. The muse is back! Never went away really, I was just letting the bugger become idle. No more though, if he (or she or they) want to reside in my soul, then there is rent to pay. The rent is handed over in the currency of ideas, and there is no limit to how much I’ll accept.
All this enthusiasm returning to me and my writing is almost overwhelming. Previously, I might have got carried away with myself. Another lesson I’ve learned is to temper my short term ambitions. I do have a tendency to lose all sense of reality if I have a good day. “Excellent, I’ve written a thousand words, The Booker Prize will surely be mine next year“! That sort of thing.
If I have a flying thousand word day, I now bank it, but will happily settle for just a few notes in my journal the following day if that’s what time allows for.
As Stephen King would answer in an interview “How do I write? One. Word. At. A. Time.”
Nicky, (regular readers will know Nicky through the gushing romantic references, prolifically scattered throughout my blog posts) my amazing lady wife, has always been 100% behind my writing ambitions and is frustrated on my behalf if I get stuck in a gloomy dead end. It is at best naïve and forgetful and at worse unfair and ungrateful for me to blame ‘family pressures‘ when my writing slows or stalls. Hell, even my brother eagerly offered to be a first reader. Nope, my family have my back, and I’d do well to remember that in darker times.
Some days are mostly fully booked before I get to add in ‘my’ goals. But if I’m honest they’re probably only 75% pre booked, even on the busiest days. The problem comes when I misuse the other 25% by wallowing and shouting at the unfairness of everything on the internet. Just accepting these truths helps, even the act of typing this gets me determined to be more focussed on being productive in the time windows which open up for me.
In our spare room we have bunk beds, a turbo trainer, more books shelves, AND A DESK! If I don’t want to be disturbed, why not go and sit at it!?
King is ruthless. He encourages us all to write, but offers no secrets, no hacks, no ‘cheats’, but insists “If you don’t want to work your ass off, you have no business trying to write well.”
A big up too for Writers HQ, their courses, blogs, writers’ tools and resources are arranged, as they say, to fit in with “bad ass writers with no time or money“! For a mere score (£20) each month you get access to everything they have to offer. I always try to do their snappy short course each month and have ongoing work-in-progress folders for some of their longer offerings. Checking in with Writers HQ once a day helps to wobble my head and prompt new thoughts and ideas.
What am I actually working on then?
I’ve got a flash fiction piece I’m batting around and there’s some new content appearing in my Scrivener which could well find its way into the novel (which I’ve only been working in for 4 years now!).
I like the idea of a regular blog post updating where my writing is at. It is the first week of April, the first week of the 2nd quarter of the year and it feels like I’m lining at the start of something.
What does that mean in reality?
We’ll have to wait and see.
Whatever progress I make this coming month, it’ll be………
A quarter of the year has now gone. I can’t think of anything in which I’ve achieved anywhere near a quarter of my aims.
Which sounds rather negative when I say it outloud.
To discover what’s been going on, let’s unpack my 2022 manifesto.
At least my first pledge is going well! I said I’d write in my journal every single day, and I’m pleased to say that I always, always do. Winning eh? One nil up and we’ve only just kicked off. (Spoiler alert, this isn’t going to be a goal fest!)
Ah. Well, er, well, you see, hhmmm. I’ve submitted a couple of times to Paragraph Planet (with one success!) but, alas, I am yet to enter the Friday Flash Fiction Face Off at Writers HQ. It just hasn’t happened. Read on to find out why?
I don’t even need to look back to remind myself of this pledge! I know it was to work for two hours every single week. And I know I haven’t. And I’m disgusted with myself. Disgusted I am. What’s going on? Read on to find out.
I don’t need to look back for these pledges either! I know I’ve not contributed a single post since the turn of the year. Not one. To think there was a time when I hoped to review every book I’ve read, never mind any other posts I fancied writing. It’s not going very well is it, this manifesto. Imagine if you’d voted for me and it turned out I couldn’t keep a single promise I’d made….
Well, at least some success here to report. I pledged I’d buy from independent publishers and book shops and I’m pleased to say I’ve been good with that. Looking at my to-be-read–pile alongside books I’ve read waiting for Nicky to enjoy, there’s a few there which have come direct from indies as well as a couple bought in independent book shops.
I haven’t one poem a day (another of my pledges) but I have acquired a few fine volumes and do enjoy a few poems each week.
I also pledged to read at least 6 books (over the course of 2022) which were published at least 10 years ago. The idea being that I don’t simply follow the current fads and trends (although I hope I never have) and browsed the shelves more. Reading is happening a lot more slowly this year, for the reasons you’ll discover if you can bear to read on. I have been buying a few older books though, and have added to the backlog with some excellent charity shop hauls. So far in 2022 I’ve read these books, check out my lists from 2021 and 2020 too.
Running, Health and Fitness
I never made any pledges for my running, other than to run as much as I can and/or want to. The events I listed in my manifesto are either long gone or fast approaching and I’m not looking like toeing the start line of any of them. Read on to discover why.
As for my health, well quite a lot has happened to impact my hopes for 2022. I’ve had some serious down time and have not been hitting my strength and conditioning targets. But, I don’t feel I’ve let myself down as there has been a dramatic hit to my health this year. As I keep saying, read on……
Why Oh Why And Why Again
The Good Stuff
Nanny & Grandad Daycare: We look after our latest grandson, Charlie, 3 days a week. He is an absolute delight, a bubbly baby with a zest for life. But maybe we didn’t quite acknowledge just how tiring this might be! It is an absolute joy to spend the time with him and watch him grow and develop.
This simply shuffles other things down the league table of priorities. And sometimes we just want to eat (ah, eating…. read on my friend, read on) and chill. Picking up a pen and notebook, or sitting at my desk typing gives way to a binge of Drive To Survive or something similar.
As we become more accustomed to our roles, I’m sure we’ll find more of our other leisure pursuits fitting in to the time available (hence this blog post happening now). None of our challenges have disappeared they’ve simply been moved around to suit our lifestyle.
Talking Of Lifestyle: We have Become Vegans: And what a bloomin’ transformation this has been. We’ve both made difficult decisions before in our lives. We’ve both found better tracks to follow over the years and feel blessed that we ended up on the same track as each other. But this lifestyle change has been such a shift in thinking and everything about it has been positive. Neither of us are interested in becoming preachy about veganism, we just know it is exactly right for us. This was the moment when everything aligned for us to make the change.
And don’t worry, we’re getting plenty of protein!
In fact, as I keep telling people, we are eating like a king and queen. The final push to make the change was probably as a result of something far less positive.
The Bad Stuff: Covid
As anyone who was willing to listen, or to read this blog, would know, Nicky and I have a real love affair with Cornwall (Nicky was born at Long Rock for a start) and particularly the many coastal running events we’ve enjoyed down there. This year I was finally going to toe the line of the iconic Arc Of Attrition 50 and I had trained well throughout the autumn and winter, I was ready. About 10 days before The Arc I started to feel a bit ill, and a couple of days later I was testing positive, coughing relentlessly and felt truly awful. Luckily, Nicky got off pretty lightly, but I took to the box room and curled up in a ball of self pity. I was testing negative by race day but was getting breathless so quickly I couldn’t have contemplated 12 hours on the remotest, most challenging coastline in the far southwest of Cornwall.
Covid seemed to impact everything for those couple of weeks, and certainly sucked the energy and zest out of me, and to a certain extent Nicky. I don’t want to be dramatic but I couldn’t even be bothered to read my book and certainly didn’t write anything.
Recovery from Covid is ongoing and I’m nursing a niggly foot after standing on a rock. DOH!
We’ve got so much to be thankful for though and I will never take for granted that I have been blessed with sharing my life with such a wonderful, funny, clever, inspiring, encouraging and quite beautiful lady wife Nicky. Not only that, our amazing family , our returning health and living in such a gorgeous part of the world.
As for my personal challenges, let’s just see where it all goes.
Well, here we are a year on from my last manifesto. It’s true it seems, there is no ‘normal’. No ‘new normal’. I can’t even remember the ‘old normal’. I think I’ll just pat myself on the back for getting through as best I could.
I started well with my pledges and some of the momentum was maintained throughout the year. But not all of it. Far from it!
In 2022, I shall do better.
I was pretty good at keeping a journal this year, even if for simply scribbling down a random sentence or reminder, this will continue in 2022.
I pledge to write in my journal, every single day. Maybe only to report that I have nothing to report, but reminding myself to keep my head in the game. Whenever I remember, and have the time, I will carry out ‘stream of consciousness’ writing exercises in the journal. A 10 or 15 minute alarm on my phone always helps and this is a perfect way to spend some of my break at work. Prompt books like the 242 Tiny Things To Write About are great too. Whatever I’m doing, I’ll make room for the pen.
I’m trying not to make any ambiguous commitments. And so for a writing challenge, I’m going to use the energy of Paragraph Planet and Writers HQ to get my creative mind actually creating. This will help my writing craft with any luck, but also sow seeds of greater stories to grow from the ideas.
Writers HQ is a great writing community and course library offering motivation, prompts and prods by the pint pot. They also run a weekly Friday Flash Face off where members simply enter their flash fiction (very short pieces of writing) for mutual critique. ‘Tis a fine thing. As is Paragraph Planet who publish one 75 word paragraph every single day. Both are free to get involved with and are great ways to prompt writing. Like I say, many larger ideas for pieces start with a word or 75.
Still sounds ambiguous, I hear you cry. Well:
I pledge to, at the minimum, submit one piece to either the Writers HQ Friday Flash Face Off, or Paragraph Planet, every single week.
And while I’m at it, I’ll make sure I keep up with my poetry. I’ve had small successes – online journals published a few pieces and I’ll take confidence from that. Working on a draft of a poem idea for 30 minutes in my break at work is so much more rewarding than 30 minutes of the scroll of doom on my phone. I pledge to submit at least one poem per month to a literary publication or competition.
See, I’m getting into this now!
Ahhhh, the Novel. Working title Dogs That Don’t Look Like Their Owners. I’ve been chipping away at this for over 3 years now and I’m nowhere near a first draft. I think about the book a lot, I talk to the main characters, I scribble ideas in my journal. I’m very much writing the thing. I just need to, er, actually write the thing. Harping back to Writers HQ, they are exponents of the ‘timed writing’ idea – sit at a desk (or stand, or lie in a field with a notebook, whatever is available to me) and set a timer for 10, 20 or 30 minutes, phone out of reach, and just write. This definitely works for me. So, with that in mind…..
I pledge to write for a minimum of two hours (using the timed method) soley on my novel, every week during 2022.
What about The Blog? This here blog. I get ideas for a blog post come to me all the time. Particularly when I’m driving around in my job. I need to make sure I keep my notebook handy and every time I stop, jot these random thoughts down. I heard the great author David Keenan say that if he has an idea, he knows it is a good one if he can immediately recall it when he picks up his notebook. If I don’t use the notebook, a Booker Prize winning idea may well slip away!
I pledge to post at least one book review per month to the blog. I also pledge to add at least one other post, on any subject, per month as well. If I commit to any more it will only lead to disappointing myself and then slipping down the all to familiar ‘What’s the feckin’ point?’ hole! If I write more, then great. If not, at least I’ve set a reasonable target to hold myself to account.
So that’s writing. Why am I going to do all of that? Because I bloomin’ well love writing. I may or may not be any good at it. I’m certainly not going to make any money from it. People either will or won’t read my words. But even the occasional comment I receive about a piece, telling me that what I’ve written resonates, that’s enough to know I belong.
I won’t be setting a target for number of books to read this year, as with my running, it only leads to creating tension instead of the positivity I should be getting from my two favourite hobbies, but I will make a series of pledges similar to last year.
I pledge to readat least one poem every single day. Every single podcast I listen to about writing, or books on writing, every interview with authors, they all say “READ WIDELY” when asked to give aspiring writers a tip. I find poetry helps me pick apart language, it challenges the way we express ideas. Poetry also feeds the soul, nourishing emotional dark spots as well as pushing my creativity.
I also pledge to buy one book a month from an independent publisher, by an author I haven’t read before. I did this in 2021 and it’s great to rummage beyond the headline and heavily promoted books in the literary world. Not that I don’t enjoy the writing of our most famous authors, but I also know there’s a wealth of talent out there waiting to be discovered. Where possible, I will buy these books from independent bookshops too.
Not only that, I pledge to read a minimum of 6 books during 2022 which were published at least ten years ago. This is another way of avoiding the trap of simply reading off the 3 for 2 table in Waterstones. Not that there aren’t great books on the first table you come to in our flagship bookseller, but there is so, so much more to discover.
I also pledge to buy at least one literary magazine, journal or chapbook every month too. I enjoy the marvellous creative non-fiction journal, Hinterland and enjoy a subscription from them, my pledge will be in addition to that. Bring on 2022, the year of reading not scrolling I hope.
So my reading should look after itself if I carry out all of the above pledges.
I bloomin’ love reading and books!
Running And Fitness And Health
This time last year, we were facing another round of cancelations due to the ongoing Covid 19 situation and all the training I had done for The Arc 50 looked like being in vain. The situation didn’t improve and the event was sadly postponed until 2022. In precisely four weeks time I am hoping to line up on the stage of The Minack Theatre in Cornwall and tackle the 50 miles along the coast path to Porthtowan. Fingers crossed eh!?
As for Nicky, she is going to attempt to get to Copenhagen at the third time of asking for her Ironman. Add to this the Outlaw triathlon she started in 2019 only for the organisers being forced to abandon the event after the swim leg due to the biblical weather conditions. They were right to, deep flooding and fallen trees littered the bike course. So this is the 4th year of her pinning her 42 week training plan to the kitchen door.
I’ll never be as organised as Nicky…….. she has every session pencilled in for the next 8 months. Then again, she is attempting something HUGE which involves swimming, cycling and running a very, very long way! She needs to be balancing her training. Whereas I am naturally more chaotic. I will make sure I get my long runs done out there on the trails. Other than that, I’ll run when I feel like it, wherever the the mood takes me. If I’m tired from work, I’ve found there’s no point in forcing myself. I just want to carry on enjoying every step.
So, as in 2021, in 2022 I pledge to NOT attempt to follow a training plan.
My goal for ALL of these events is to do as much as I can to give myself the best chance of completing them. I will not train if I’m over tired from the combination of working, training and any other aspect of life, I will rest if rest is what’s required.
I also pledge this, as I did in 2021: I will, every single day, do either some conditioning work, strength exercises, stretches or other body maintenance. Even if that is something as simple as a few stretches, I’ll be treating my body right. My job if anything, more than the running, tends to give me aches and pains.
This will hopefully give me the best chance of keeping healthy as my aging body builds towards these challenges. As would eliminating the absolute crap I’m guilty of guzzling! So, time for another food pledge (last year’s lasted 6 weeks before I caved in to a hamper of chocolate!).
I pledge to not snack at work. I’m going to only snack during evenings after big (as in 2 hours plus) training days. Puddings will still be the law after roast dinners of course. Let’s see if we can break the pattern this year.
We’re all just living the life we’ve got, making decisions as best we can. I think I just need to decide the person I really want to be and let that drive every decision I make.
If anyone has got to the end of this, I’ll be mightily impressed. With that sort of grit and resolve, you should definitely be the type of character who will stick to their New Years resolutions.